When I became a Platoon Sergeant in the Army I attended a leadership Development course called the Advanced Non Commissioned Officer Course (ANCOC). I learned a lot in my leadership development courses in the Army, but what it really came down to was doing the job, hands on training, and working with my Soldiers. While I was at the course I picked a book by a Retired Command Sergeant Major named J.D. Pendry. The title of book was called ‘The Three Meter Zone: Common Sense Leadership for NCOs’. This title caught my eye, so I picked up the book and read it cover to cover in about 2 afternoons. Now the book had a lot of great ideas and thoughts on common sense leadership, but essentially it all boiled down to this. Worry about and lead that which you can touch. If you stand and put your arms straight out on both sides you can see your three meter zone, worry about what is inside of that circle.
I began to adopt that philosophy in my leadership. As a Platoon Sergeant, my only real concern was 4 Squad leaders. They in turn would lead their team leaders, and the team leaders would then lead their teams. When leadership is broken down to that level leadership is simple.
The other day I was digging through my “Army box” and I found my copy of “Three meter zone”. It got me to thinking about how we teach our Scouts to lead and in particular a discussion I had the other night with one of our Scouts about leadership challenges. The Scouts concerns were that it seemed like leading his Patrol seemed to be a task to big for him. He shared with me a laundry list of worries he had about this and that and at the end of the conversation it seemed that his worries were out of his control. He was worried about seat belts for the next camp out, he was worried about guys in other patrols, he was worried about one of the other patrols and their task for Webelos Woods. I asked him what any of his concerns had to do with his patrol and if his Assistant Patrol shared the same concerns. He told me that none of it had to do with his patrol and that he had not talked about it with the APL.
I had him stand up and hold his arms out parallel to the ground out to his sides. I had him turn in a circle and tell me about how many of his patrol mates could fit in that circle. He said his whole patrol could fit in the circle. I told him that was his 3 meter zone and that is all I want him to worry about. We talked about the idea that if his APL and him stood an arms width apart and did the same thing would it make it more comfortable for the patrol to stand in the circle? Yep, he said. Then that is where I want him to practice his leadership. There is no need for him to worry about the next level yet, there is no reason for him to worry about seat belts, that is committee work. All he had to do was stay focused on leading his patrol. It was his job to ensure that the Scouts inside of his 3 meter zone had Purpose, Direction, and Motivation. And that is the essence of leadership.
I think that I will be adding my thoughts on the 3 meter zone in our future Junior leadership training sessions. It reduces the pressure on the young leader and helps illustrate that effective leadership starts with managing your own leadership development and confidence. When it is reduced to that which you can reach out and touch, leadership gets small and simple.
This rule works at the Patrol level and the Army level.. those that lead Divisions of 10,000 really only lead a handful of people. Decentralizing leadership makes for effective leading.
Senior Patrol leaders need only lead the Patrol leaders of the Troop. Patrol leaders only need to lead their patrols, and when that happens leaders are developed.
You can pick up a copy of J.D. Pendry’s Three Meter Zone through Amazon. It is Army focused, but the principles apply everywhere.
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